Fisheries future hangs in the balance –

Fisheries future hangs in the balance Published:  22 November, 2007

RSPB Scotland and WWF Scotland said today they welcomed the “positive” debate on securing sustainable fish stocks at Holyrood earlier today. However, the challenge is now for the Scottish and UK governments to work together to deliver a long term future for both the fishing industry and marine conservation.

The two charities are promoting a suite of practical measures designed to ensure that signs of recovery in cod stocks are not wiped out by ignoring the scientific advice to keep the total catch low.

Among the suggested measures are:

. Time or area closures

Real-time closures of cod fisheries – related to our knowledge of spawning grounds and the cod life cycle – are already being trialled, but this must be a co-ordinated effort. The Scottish Government should commit to extend the real-time closure pilot and work with other Member States to achieve meaningful closures for the protection of juveniles.

. Improve gear selectivity

The problem of indiscriminate fishing is not a new problem, however technical solutions do exist, and all that’s required is the political will to implement them. Technical measures for reducing bycatch and discarding (increasing gear selectivity) include the use of square mesh panels, coverless trawls, sorting grids or separator panels, and the Scottish government should set a mandatory requirement for the use of square mesh panels in Nephrops fisheries and pilot whitefish trawl gear that will separate out cod from the rest of the whitefish catch.

. Introduce bycatch quotas

The Total Annual Catch (TAC) quotas, which are negotiated each year in Brussels are quotas for landed fish only, i.e. they don’t reflect the size of the bycatch which goes to waste. A bycatch quota would allow fishermen to use their detailed knowledge of the sea to target the best areas to fish, meaning that cod mortality could be decreased, while allowing the profitable mixed fisheries to remain operational. A network of observers to monitor cod bycatch would be required, and once again the benefits to the industry in the long term would be huge. The Scottish Government should be actively championing bycatch quotas to support key Scottish fisheries and empower fishermen to make the right decisions for the stock.

Mark Ruskell, RSPB Scotland’s Marine and Coastal Policy Office, said: “For the good of the fishing industry, the Scottish and UK governments need to work together to plot the fastest route to sustainability for fish stocks in our waters. The choice is there – short term exploitation, which will compromise recovery and provide a short-term economic fix versus long-term economic, social and environmental prosperity. We’re challenging both the Scottish and UK governments to deliver the fastest route to sustainable fish stocks, using a package of measures to keep the stocks recovering.”

He added: “The Scottish Parliament has signalled its desire to deliver sustainable fisheries, but the challenge now is to see that through and commit the government to a package of real measures that actually delivers. Increasing the quota for cod without accompanying moves to control fishing effort would be disastrous and would fly in the face of what Parliament has agreed today.”

Helen McLachlan, senior marine policy officer with WWF Scotland added: “Recent signs of hope for the North Sea fishery are based on a slightly larger than normal 2005 year catch. However, this catch was only a third of the size of the best year classes in the 1990s. It is critical that this year class of fish, now still immature at age two, is allowed to survive until they can spawn and contribute to the population. We cannot afford this first sign of hope to trigger high levels of pressure on cod stocks as this will only deliver further deterioration of the stock.”

Ms McLachlan continued: “The cross party support for more work to be done to create truly sustainable fishery in the North Sea, including measures to dramatically reduce if not eliminate discards, is to be welcomed. Government and fishermen have an opportunity to act now to help cod recovery and safeguard the Scottish fishing industry for future generations.

“Throughout 2008-9, reflecting the will of Parliament, we need to work on how fishermen can avoid catching juvenile cod in particular, and in doing so drastically reduce the number of fish being caught and discarded.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.